15 July, 2010

Beyond Zero Emissions report - Zero Carbon Australia 2020

The public launch of the Beyond Zero Emissions report - Zero Carbon Australia 2020 - was delivered by Mathew Wright, Executive Director BZE, to an overflowing audience at Melbourne University last night. The report is one possible blueprint for acting on the challenge of climate change by converting the existing coal and gas fired carbon pollution dependent electricity generation to 100% renewables using only current technologies in ten years.
Related: Renewable energy target: 20 by 2020 or zero emissions by 2020? | Northcote Independent (blog) - Zero emissions challenge to Australia's coal minister
Beyond Zero Emissions has utilised pro-bono research by academic specialists in solar technology, mechanical and electrical engineering and economics, over the last two years to produce this report. It shows how Australia could move from being one of the highest carbon emitters per capita to one of the lowest.

Why is this necessary?

Scientists have been saying Australia needs to reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2020: "the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2007) recommended that developed countries should reduce emissions by 25-40% on 1990 levels by 2020. Yet more recent evidence shows that only reductions at the top end of this range will be sufficient to avoid the worst impacts of climate change." said forty of the world’s leading climate scientists in a statement initiated by WWF and released prior to the Copenhagen Climate summit in December 2009.
"The premise of a 10 year transition is based on ‘The Budget Approach’ from the German Advisory Council on Global Change. In order to have a 67% chance of keeping global warming below 2oC above pre-industrial temperatures, on a basis of equal allocation of emissions on a per-capita basis, it would be necessary for the USA to reduce emissions to zero in 10 years. Australia has the same per-capita emissions as the USA, and would need to pursue the same goal," the plan says.
Both the Labor and Opposition parties are aiming at only a 5 per cent emissions reduction by 2020. This falls far short than what the scientists say is required.
Without any action to set a carbon price electricity prices are set to surge due to the business uncertainty around setting a price for carbon. The audience was told that with business as usual it is estimated $100 billion will be invested in electricity sector in Australia over the next decade. New coal fired power plants may find problems being financed due to the uncertainty. Energy producers are more likely to add gas turbine peaking plants which are cheap to build but expensive to run.
A Climate Institute report produced by researchers and business partners recently estimated that uncertainty around whether government will place a price tag on pollution that will cost the economy and consumers $2 billion a year in higher electricity prices. (ABC interview with John Connor from Climate Institute: No ETS means higher electricity prices: study)

Transitioning to Renewable Energy is realistic and achievable at moderate cost

By comparison, economic modelling shows the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 could be implemented for a total cost of about $370 billion, or $37 billion per year - about 3 per cent of GDP per year for 10 years. Included in this cost is a major extension and upgrade to the electricity transmission grid to make it more efficient. Upgrading the existing transmission infrastructure may also help avoid future bush fires caused by poor maintenaince reminiscent of the Black Saturday bushfire in Victoria.
With the exception of the Bass strait link there was been little work upgrading the electricity transmission grid since the 1970s. The cost of building the transmission grid is estimated at 25 per cent of the total project costs.
It could become a 21st century equivalent of the Snowy Mountains Scheme creating up to 80,000 jobs from installation of renewable energy generation at the peak of construction, and over 45,000 jobs in operations and maintenance that will continue for the life of the plant. Such a scheme would also generate up to 30,000 jobs in manufacturing wind turbines and heliostats.
Many of these jobs could be created close to existing coal fired power stations to provide an opportunity to transition the existing workforce. Such a project would also provide Australia with a manufacturing capacity to export renewable technologies to the region and the world.
The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 report shows us one possible mix of current commercial technologies to realise the goal of zero carbon emissions by 2020. Other plans may choose a different mix using slightly different technology. Solar photovoltaic and emerging renewable technologies such as wave, tidal and geothermal have been explicitly excluded from this plan but may well play an active role as these technologies are developed, commercialised, and rolled out.
The plan calls for 40% renewable energy from wind generation, 60% from large scale concentrating solar thermal power with molten salt storage for 24/7 baseload operation, and backup from Hydro-electric and biomass power generation. The plan specifies sites around Australia that are selected for their wind availability, solar incidence, economy of scale, transmission costs, technical efficency, and geographical diversity: 23 sites for wind, and 12 sites for Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST). The plan is based only on existing commercial technology.
Transferring from coal fired electricity generation will require large public and private investments. To assist this a carbon price needs to be set. An emissions trading scheme - Cap and Trade - is open to volatility which produces market uncertainty for business investment decisions as shown by the European Emissions Trading Scheme.
In a question from the floor about setting a carbon price, one of the speakers said what was needed was a combined system where a carbon tax sets a floor price for carbon pollution, with an emissions trading scheme setting a cap on pollution and issuing permits which can be bought and sold. This would provide a stable floor price to base long term business decisions on, while also setting an upper level on total carbon pollution allowed and letting the market determine the price for pollution permits.
So Australia transitioning to an electricity sector based on renewables with zero carbon emissions by 2020 is possible and achievable for a realistic cost.
Impediments to implementing such a nation building scheme includes the lack of political leadership and will from both sides of politics. Our politicians are also being influenced by lobbyists from the very powerful existing coal and electricity industries. These companies have enormous clout and influence on both State and Federal politicians. The relatively small solar and enewable sector just cannot match the funding and power of the fossil fuel industries. To a question from the floor about how we can bring about this change, one of the speakers said we need people power - the electorate needs to tell our politicians in an unambiguous way of its support for action on climate change and transitioning to renewable energy such as this plan.
There was question from the floor about the funding of Carbon capture and storage (CCS). The speaker from the Melbourne Energy Institute said that the research and development of CCS was also required for countries that will continue to rely on coal fired power generation, and as a process to eventually reduce carbon in the atmosphere by sequestration.
I came away from this launch heartened. Thirty five years ago I helped set up a demonstration solar hot water system on the lawns of parliament house in Canberra. Alternative and renewable technology was dismissed as the margin, especially by politicians then. Will our political leaders listen now? I hope so, especially if you support Beyond Zero Emissions ongoing work and tell your Federal and State politicians that we need to transition to a zero carbon pollution economy and society.
You can download the full report as a PDF (8.5MB) or download or purchase a glossy printed copy from The Melbourne Energy Institute, Melbourne University for $30

If you would like to get BZE to your city or town, please contact  Pablo@beyondzeroemissions.org.

The BZE team. 

Endorsements of the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan  below:

"With our natural advantage Australia can and should be positioning itself as a global renewable super power for future prosperity. This report will help shift the climate debate to focus on energy; security; affordability; export and of course opportunity. Beyond Zero Emissions offers a new and invigorating message that is much needed”
Professor Robin Batterham,
President, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering,
formerly Chief Scientist of Australia

“This is an ambitious, technically feasible plan that should be looked at seriously”
Tim Flannery
Professor Faculty of Science
Macquarie University
Australian of the Year 2007
"No doubt improved technologies for tapping usable energy from the sun, the winds, the tides, and the hot core of our planet will emerge as time goes by. But this report shows clearly that the solutions available now are, with our small population and enormous landmass, sufficient for Australia to move forward very quickly to tap renewable energy sources and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. We have the resources. We need the will.
Dr. Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate, School of Medicine, University of Melbourne

"100 % renewable energy with zero emissions is achievable in Australia in about a decade if politics takes concerted actions…Moreover, Australia can become the initiator for a serious attempt to shift the world to a solar economy. This is the only promising strategy for climate protection and would provide societies around the world with solutions for climate protection, economic development, poverty reduction and conflict resolution. We need action now!"
Hans-Josef Fell, Member of the German Parliament
Alliance 90/The Greens Spokesman for Energy

"To achieve a safe climate future we need an urgent, large-scale transition. The work of Beyond Zero Emissions shows that the technical transition is affordable and achievable. Now we need a social and political transition to get behind it."
Professor Carmen Lawrence,
School of Psychology,
University of Western Australia
Former Premier of Western Australia.

“Renewable energy is the only way to go in the future. Enercon wind energy converters are designed to the newest standards to integrate with the modern high flexibility demands of electricity grids, providing sustainable reliable power to keep the wheels of daily life, household and industry turning. The Zero Carbon Plan outlines a technically achievable plan for generating all of Australias energy from the wind and the sun. It can be a realistic goal if Australia gets immediately seriously committed with decision making from industry and government. We hope that its recommendations are taken up so that Australia can also be a player in the renewable energy economy that is already booming around the world.”
"As the IEA has shown in its research, solar energy is now a serious global player for providing the world's energy.  Australia has one of the world's best solar energy resource, especially suited for concentrating solar thermal power plants, which can dispatch electricity when it is needed. The Zero Carbon Australia Plan is based on up-to-date and sound information and provides quality insights on how a country well-endowed in renewable resources can transition to a solar and wind economy.
C├ędric Philibert
Renewable Energy Division
International Energy Agency
"The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan shows that it is technically feasible and affordable to replace all fossil fuel electricity with 100% renewable energy given the willpower and commitment to do so. This is a cutting-edge science-based plan that should be read by every energy decision maker and politician in Australia."
Mark Z. Jacobson
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Professor by Courtesy of Energy Resources Engineering
Director, Atmosphere/Energy Program
Stanford University, USA

“It's not the five per cent cut project or the 20 per cent cut project with a bunch of unachievable caveats. It's a zero carbon project and I think people actually want to be told a narrative, a story which is ambitious, which is aspirational, but also practical and I think that is what this project is about.”
Federal Independent Senator Nick Xenophon

"This is a bold and ground-breaking piece of work which should be a wake-up call to all those in government and industry who refuse to see beyond coal”
“This is a very exciting report. It has academic rigour, it has also the hope of a generation and it has thousands of jobs waiting to happen.”
"We can and must aim to power Australia with 100% renewable energy as soon as possible if we are to truly tackle the climate crisis - and the great news is, that will bring huge benefits to us all, cleaning the air and creating jobs and investment from the suburbs to the farmlands.”

"This Zero Carbon Australia plan is an extremely valuable contribution which all in the parliament should be looking at very seriously”
Federal Greens Senator Christine Milne
"Every nation in the world should make a plan like this.  If one can get a 100% renewable, zero carbon electricity system by investing 3% of GDP (and 10% of gross investment) for ten years, there is no good reason not to do it. Except, maybe, the straitjacket of old ways of thinking and doing.

This plan lays out a high solar-wind renewable future and then does more.  It looks carefully at the materials requirements of such a future, an aspect of the matter too often left unaddressed.

Australia could be the first large economy to show the way."

John O. Blackburn
Professor Emeritus of Economics
Duke University, USA

"Australians are capable of rapid change when the historical circumstances call for it. Indeed, we pride ourselves on being a resourceful people. TheBeyond Zero Emissions team show how inventive and resourceful we can be. Their plan for a transition to 100% renewables is a powerful and cogent response to those who claim it can't be done. The reception this report receives will be a sign of how much Australians believe in their future and how much they take refuge in the thinking of the past."

Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics and author of Requiem for a Species

“For decades, those opposing the transition to clean energy have claimed that it is not technically feasible. This report puts that argument convincingly to bed. There is no longer an excuse for inaction. Starting the transition now is our responsibility to future generations.”
Professor Ian Lowe
President of the Australian Conservation Foundation
Emeritus Professor Griffith University

"The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan is a provocative and timely contribution to the climate change debate, and it deserves attention both here and abroad. The Plan demolishes a pile of conventional wisdom that Australian policymakers still seem unable to get past. The sorry history of Australian climate policy procrastination is littered with polluter-friendly analyses conducted by economic hired guns. Their work has been used to argue against action, or for illusory schemes that price carbon without reducing the greenhouse pollution billowing from Australian smokestacks and tailpipes. The effect has been to constrain debate and obscure from our view a very different vision—a rapid switch from fossil to renewable energy that makes economic and environmental sense.  By highlighting one of many pathways to achieving that vision, the ZCA report sheds light where it is desperately needed."
Dr Guy Pearse
Research Fellow, Global Change Institute
University of Queensland
Author of High & Dry and Quarry Vision

"It is difficult to imagine the Zero Carbon Australia plan being adopted in the context of Australia's current political and commercial culture and power cost structure. However, as an examination of the technical feasibility of achieving its goals as it seeks to shift this culture, it offers an interesting challenge for the imagination of policymakers and power suppliers feeling their way in to an uncertain future."
Keith Orchison
Coolibah Pty Ltd
Former Managing Director
Electricity Supply Association of Australia

”The ZCA report analyses one particular scenario of renewable energy technology choice based on available solutions, in considerable depth. It successfully shows in detail that 100% renewable energy is both technically possible and economically affordable. Clearly other renewable energy technology scenarios are also possible, that only serves to strengthen the overall conclusion about viability. The group is to be congratulated for their efforts."
Associate Professor Keith Lovegrove
Leader High Temperature Solar Thermal Group
Australian National University

“The chips are down - there is no longer any doubt about our need to rapidly transition to a zero emission economy.  The fate of Australia and the world depend on it.  The Zero Carbon Australia strategy being launched by Beyond Zero Emissions provides the roadmap to the solutions. Let's hope it is adopted by responsible governments everywhere.”
Professor Ove Hoegh-Goldberg, Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

"Wind Power is now a serious player in international energy. Installing 8000 megawatt-class turbines along with smaller wind turbines and other renewables where appropriate is achievable at a price the community can afford. Direct drive turbines such as the Enercon turbines are very suitable for a modern electricity grid where wind will be relied upon for a large proportion of overall electricity demand."
David Wood
Enmax/Schulich Professor of Renewable Energy
Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering
University of Calgary, Canada

“Climate change is a huge threat facing Australia and the world today.  We need action now if we are to secure a future for generations to come.  The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan demonstrates that Australia can eliminate greenhouse emissions from the stationary energy sector within a decade – using technology that is commercially available today, and at an acceptable cost. We can’t afford to ignore it.”
Dr David Skellern
CEO NICTA (National ICT Australia)

"The release of Zero Carbon Australia could not be more timely. It will force reconsideration of government policy that, following the change in leadership, appears to be retreating still further from any meaningful commitment to a low-carbon economy.  The report is unambiguous in demonstrating that a low-carbon economy is within our technical capacity and that this it is more than economically feasible.  The challenge is now that of engaging the political will and bringing this sustainable future to fruition."
Dr Stuart Rosewarne
Chair of the Department of Political Economy
University of Sydney

"I get to work with people all over the world in the fight against global warming, a fight growing increasingly desperate as temperatures climb and rainfall patterns shift. Since Australia leads the world in per capita emissions, it makes sense that its transition planners would be thinking big. This transition obviously won't be easy or simple or cost-free, but given the alternatives it's very nice to know it's technically feasible!"
Bill McKibben
Scholar in residence at Middlebury College, Author and Founder 350.org

“I strongly endorse the broad concept of such a solar and wind plan and applaud the work of the University of Melbourne and Beyond Zero Emissions.  Our own work underway to calculate the feasibility of a 100% solar - wind plan for the United States has so far had the aim of  testing technical feasibility, and the match seems to be 99-100%. We have considered the biomass backup options as well for CST plants but increased thermal storage also seems to work for a 100% solar - wind system for the USA. I have some differences in the discussion of CST technology used as an example, but the study is at an initial stage. The advent of such a comprehensive study in Australia will assist recognition of our own work directed to the USA case, and speed the market development of the CST and wind technologies to supply economical solar energy both day and night."
Dr David Mills
Founder and past CEO of Solar Thermal power company Ausra

“From the other side of the globe Protermosolar fully shares the vision of the realistic and feasible Zero Carbon Australian Plan. Spain is currently the country with the most intensive deployment of CST (concentrating solar thermal) plants and their contribution to the grid stability and to the dispatchability of power supply has been fully demonstrated. Molten salt storage systems have been implemented in many Spanish plants providing predictable and reliable operation after sunset. Thus CST technologies could be considered as a real alternative to cover even the base load requirements of the electricity system.

Australia must profit from its high solar resource, the sooner the better. An effective boost to CST and to the other renewable technologies - as presented in this plan – will not only go in the right direction in terms of the transition to a new energy mix but it will also result an excellent business for the Australian economy.”

Dr. Luis Crespo
Spanish Association of CST Industries

"This is exactly the type of initiative that we, the solar power industry, needs to propel our technology into the energy markets of Australia.  SolarReserve's concentrated solar power towers with molten salt storage are the most reliable, stable form of clean, renewable energy, which is exactly what's needed to achieve the safe climate future proposed in BZE's Zero Carbon Australia roadmap.  

"SolarReserve's solar thermal technology with molten salt storage; proven at Solar Two, the US Department of Energy's 10 MW pilot plant that operated for over 3 years in the 1990's, will not only aid in meeting Australia's renewable energy and carbon reduction objectives, but also have significant economic benefits, bringing green jobs and cutting edge technology.

Solar Reserve is willing, ready and able to deploy our molten salt power towers and fully supports the Zero Carbon Australia project."

Tom Georgis
Vice President

“Beyond Zero Emissions have been in my building, Kindness House, for five years. The dedication of this remarkable team of individuals is astonishing. Most of all, I am impressed by their relentless pursuit of the truth, wherever it may lead. They have built their strategies cautiously, never letting the enthusiasm distract them from the goal of getting the right answers by asking the right questions.

”They are a welcoming organization, drawing experts from a variety of disciplines, methodically searching for practical solutions to the challenges of reducing our massive carbon footprint. I am personally delighted to see the tens of thousands of hours they have invested in this important project, never once complaining about the lack of financial resources at their disposal. They have focussed their attention heavily on the carbon costs of stationary power, transport and building. I look forward to the time when they devote their formidable intellect and energy to the Livestock industry, where so much of our carbon share is squandered and emissions ignored.

”Beyond Zero Emissions is one organization I am proud to say I helped to incubate.

”I urge every serious institution to listen to them attentively. These are serious people for serious times.”

Philip Wollen OAM
Australian of the Year Victoria 2007

“As a company involved in the development of solar plants all over the world, at Torresol Energy we encourage the Zero Carbon Australian Plan that sets the action lines for a future with clean, renewable energy.
Australia is one of the areas with better solar radiation and forms part of the international ‘sun belt’. Besides, the country has excellent conditions for profiting from that solar radiation: large low-populated areas to build the plants and an industry that can support the technological development in the solar generation sector. In that sense, each of Torresol Energy’s new projects introduces technologically advanced improvements to make Concentrated Solar Energy a manageable, economically competitive option and a real, viable, ecological and
sustainable alternative to traditional energy sources.

“Torresol Energy has three plants currently under construction. Among them, Gemasolar, with an innovative technology of central tower with molten salt receiver and thermal storage system, is the first commercial plant in the world of its kind. Due to this, the project has achieved considerable importance in the field of renewable energies as it opens the path to a new solar thermal power generation. Today, all of the analyses that have been carried out either by ourselves or by major international institutions show that tower plants with thermal storage is the type of technology that will be capable of generating reliable, manageable and renewable energy at the lowest costs. Therefore Australia could adapt this kind of technology in its renewable energy development plan that will allow the country to conserve the environment for future generations with a reliable energy source through utility scale baseload CSP plants."

Santiago Arias
Chief Infrastructure Officer.
Torresol Energy

“That Australia enjoys an abundance of renewable energy resources is beyond question. The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan demonstrates that it is both technically feasible and economically affordable for Australia to realise the benefit of these resources and transition to a 100% renewable energy future. Australian politicians and decision makers with the vision and commitment to embrace this new path have the opportunity to play an important role in leading Australia to a sustainable low carbon future.”

Sharon Mascher
Associate Professor
Centre for Mining, Energy and Resources Law
University of Western Australia


  1. I saw the BZE presentation last week. I had no idea your organisation was responsible for supporting their work. Congratulations. I was amazed by the presentation and the report. Lets hope this gets the attention it deserves in the new look parliament.

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